Because the trucking industry is a male-dominated industry in which women remain a minority, transportation employers have frequently encountered sex harassment and sex discrimination lawsuits. Although the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC's) class action sexual harassment claim against one of the largest interstate trucking companies failed to take flight, the case and ensuing settlement provide employers with valuable insight into what the EEOC may build a case on.
Monika Starke (Starke), a trainee truck driver for CRST Van Expedited (CRST), filed a sexual harassment claim after a co-worker made crude sexual remarks and advances toward her. The company denied her allegations and the case failed to settle. The EEOC then attempted to bring a sweeping sexual harassment class action lawsuit.
A district court allowed Starke's claim to proceed, but dismissed the class action portion of the lawsuit, reasoning that the EEOC had rushed to file a lawsuit without fully assembling a proper class and was improperly using the discovery process to identify victims and investigate claims. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's ruling. See Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc., +679 F.3d 657 (8th 2012).
On February 8, CRST decided to settle the matter, agreeing to pay Starke $50,000. By doing so, it will avoid EEOC scrutiny of:
Whether its response to Starke's harassment complaint was adequate;
Whether its sexual harassment policies, training or practices were sufficient; and
Whether it should have stopped Starke from riding with the alleged harasser.
CRST will also be permitted to seek from the EEOC some of the more than $12 million in attorneys' fees it spent litigating this case.
Advice for Employers
The amount of attorneys' fees greatly surpassed the settlement amount, highlighting the fact that sexual harassment claims can cost an employer substantial sums even without a determination of wrongdoing.
As a result, it is imperative for employers to take all necessary steps to prevent harassment in the workplace, including:
Having a comprehensive sexual harassment policy that is enforced uniformly;
Providing a multichannel complaint procedure that allows victims to report instances of sexual harassment;
Providing discrimination and harassment training to all employees, supervisors and managers so that they know how to identify sexual harassment and file sexual harassment complaints. Supervisors must be especially well-versed in identifying harassment and immediately reporting such conduct to the employer;
Taking all sexual harassment complaints seriously by promptly investigating;
Taking any necessary interim measures while the investigation is ongoing, such as separating the alleged harasser from the victim; and
Taking appropriate and effective action to end the harassment, including disciplining the harasser.
Harassment in the Workplace
Discrimination - Supervisor Briefing
Employee Management > EEO - Discrimination
Employee Management > EEO - Harassment
How to Deal With Sex Discrimination in the Workplace